Judy Blunt’s memoir is filled with enough heartache and triumph to last several lifetimes, and hopefully so. Hers is both a cautionary tale of, and a liberation manual for, all of the strong-willed, utterly capable women who created life on the harsh, unforgiving eastern Montana plains at the expense of their own souls. “[L]ike my mother, like the ranchwomen who peopled my childhood, I would not spout idealogy or argue theory. Strong women roared in silence. We roared by doing.”
Blunt’s artistry is so clean and pure, and her memories so electrifying and vivid, that she can evoke searing emotions from almost casual understatements, or from a single powerful image, such as her recollection of her favorite young calf gratefully lapping at the flow from a garden hose—followed by her description of being served calf tongue the same week.
Blunt has, no doubt unintentionally, written the perfect follow up—and maybe the necessary correction to—Gretel Erlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Indeed, Blunt’s mesmerizing account of her family’s plight during The Great Plains Blizzard of 1964—40 below zero, with vast snowdrifts imprisoning entire communities and their cattle for days—might be the most compelling literary evidence ever offered against the viability of creating permanent ranches in that area.
Breaking Clean is an unforgettable work. It is the kind of book that you will loan out to your friends and then talk about it, each night, over the phone, as they complete the book chapter by chapter.